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December 17, 2010
Useful but dated reference
Ffoulkes's work stands up pretty well for something written more than a full century ago. However, it is showing signs of its age; many important archaeological discoveries and detailed textual/pictorial analyses have forced the reexamination of some theories believed to be true in Ffoulkes's day. Most importantly, the earliest section of his work--which deals with the early evolution of armour--was probably quite dodgy even in his days since he had to make many of his conjectures without the data available to later researchers (especially after the excavation of battlefields such as Visby and Towton and wrecks such as the Mary Rose), and now many of the points have been proved to be outright wrong (though much of it was not his fault--he simply didn't have the material we have, and that's that). Samuel Meyrick's analysis of the Bayeux Tapestry and near-contemporary works, which resulted in the conclusion that there were several forms of "banded" and "trelliced" defences and the like, has been invalidated by closer analysis that identified almost all such constructions as mail (an armour of interlocked rings, generally known as "chainmail" to Ffoulkes and his contemporaries). It is worth noting that Ffoulkes himself expressed some reservations about Meyrick's interpretations even as he presented it almost verbatim in this work--and perhaps in Laking's multi-volume work on the history of arms and armour, since Ffoulkes had a considerable influence in its composition and editing (particularly in the later volumes published after Laking's death). A more detailed information on this particular subject is available at http://www.arador.com/articles/chainmail.html
That being said, the later sections (especially from "Transitional Armour") onwards are still quite sound even by modern standards, which is why Ffoulkes's book can still be quite useful if read with care. For people who cannot afford the expense of acquiring more up-to-date reference works such as Edge and Paddock's or Claude Blair's, I recommend a reading of Ffoulkes supplemented with presentations of more up-to-date research and criticism on sites such as myArmoury ( http://www.myarmoury.com/
) or the Arador Armour Library ( http://www.arador.com/main/index.html
January 11, 2010
One-Stop Armoury Reference for Authors Researching Novels (NNWM Forever!)
For those writing historical fiction or heroic fiction needing armour and swords in the European mode, this is all you need for your basis.
For anyone this is an excellent introduction to the study of European armour and weapons. It was originally purposed as, not a specialist's text covering Everything (which nothing ever does), but a home reference of moderate price that would be accurate as well as readable Many full-colour books sold in the stores today are full of garbage arms myths, including "Where did they get that?" names for things that will only foul you up when you get deeper in. So even if you think you know a lot, if you haven't read this--read it. It may reveal holes in your knowledge by filling them, and spotlight some of the stuff in your mind that's drawing flies.
Don't worry about the age. Charles ffoulkes is one of the all-time greats on the subject. Look at his other books. He did the inventory of the armoury of the Tower of London. He wrote a perfectly readable book on the armourers of Europe and their methods of craft and reasons for their engineering choices. You really can't talk about armour until you have read his *The Armourer and His Craft* (available here at the Archive).
Much of what he published on armour and its construction and how to wear it has been missed by many so-called experts of today on the subject: I have no idea why, but some people just can't be bothered to imagine that a book that is "old" might still be valuable. Frankly, I think many of them, having read their dozen glossy books, don't want any ideas that will muss up their settled opinions.
For most people, this will be all the reference they ever need. If armour and weapons is not your sole or primary interest, if you are interested in other aspects of the Middle Ages, even if it is milhist, this gives you all you really need on identifying equipment. One does not have to get into breaking down hilt design types, especially when they seem to signify nothing except, perhaps, area of origin or personal taste.